By Dipo Olutomi
Watching Saro you could leave with a sour taste in your mouth – not as a result of disappointment, but from a feeling that Nigeria can and should have much more of this kind of production. The two-hour-long musical is the first of its kind in Nigeria – the same country that boasts some of the biggest names in African entertainment.
The word Saro refers to freed slaves from Sierra Leone who settled in Nigeria in the early 1800s. In the same vein, the musical, which is set in modern times, celebrates migrants to Lagos from other parts of Nigeria, with a focus on four talented young men (played by Patrick Diabuah, Olumide Dada, Athony Offiong Edet and Paolo Sisiano). The quartet face a series of challenges as they chase better fortunes in this ‘city of dreams’.
A little more could have been done with the stage setup, although this would be best achieved in a proper theatre, rather than a hotel ball room. Energy was not in short supply as the actors, singers and dancers in their eye-catching costumes showed their spontaneity, proving that this show is worth taking on the road, anywhere in the world.
The music was solidly executed, both by the main characters of the act (including Diabuah’s operatic voice), but also by the band, which featured a cohesive horn section. The audience was both motionlessly fixated on the stage or singing along. Under the leadership of the musical director Ayo Ajayi, the 25-piece ensemble played a medley of Nigerian music right from classics from Fela Kuti to todays hits from Olamide, Davido and Omawumi, among others, showing just how much talent this country has to offer. Talent though, we can all agree, has never been Nigeria’s problem. Saro’s executive producer, Bolanle Austen-Peters, has shown just how the country can harness the energy and creativity of its population. Austen-Peters has prior experience in the arts, running productions at TerraKulture – her cultural centre in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Saro opened on Friday, October 25, 2013 at the Oriental Hotel in Lagos, and ran right through the weekend with tickets ranging from 5000 to 40000 Naira, which reveals the demographic the producers were aiming for – although to be fair, that’s not far from what you would get to watch a Broadway or West End musical, in the UK or US respectively.
The opening show was marred with technical issues affecting the microphones and the 3D laser backdrop, but these hitches were corrected in the later performances.
Considering the novelty and size of this project, it is a shame to have had it open for only one weekend.
Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole, could do with productions like Saro all year round but there is so much that needs to be in place before this can happen. There need to be spaces where performance artists can practice and also perform, and the National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos, would be perfect for that, if only it was not such a grim representation of Nigeria’s maintenance culture.
Nigerian theatre, and performance arts as a whole, still has a long way to go but as Bolanle Austen-Peters has shown, it is up to the citizens to innovate, and Saro has definitely lived up to its billing.
It would be great to see this show return. It was a little rough around the edges but nothing that some smooth finishing cannot handle. Break a leg!